ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Calibrating Civil Service Examination Reform

The recent protests against the changes made to the civil service examination scheme speak directly to the ascendance of the governance paradigm that has taken root in the corridors of power. The concern is that the changes militate against the interests of regional and rural aspirants and need to be balanced against the dysfunction likely to result from the selection of candidates without skill sets for new public management. An additional worry is the rush to reform without affording much time for aspirants to adjust their exam-taking strategies.

Views expressed are personal.

The contestation over the nature and content of the civil service examination (CSE) is not new, and the “discrepancy between the kind of generalist education rewarded by the exams and the technical jobs that passees are increasingly expected to do” has received scholarly attention in the past (Evans 1995: 67). The current bout of anxiety that is on display in the recent protests against the changes now made to the CSE scheme speaks directly to the ascendance of the governance paradigm that has taken firm root in the corridors of power since the time major changes were last made to the examination in 1976-79.

The “managerial turn” in public administration has been justified on the basis of latest developments in the area that “emphasise the importance of measuring result and highlight the outputs and outcomes rather than inputs and processes” (SARC 2008: 62). The protest against the equal weight given to paper II of the preliminary examination (often referred to as the “aptitude test”) that was introduced since 2011 after eliminating the requirement to take a subject paper at this stage reflects the discomfiture with the proposed reinvention of the public administrator as manager, given that this paper aims to test candidates in comprehension, interpersonal and communication skills, logical reasoning and analytical ability, decision-making and problem-solving, general mental ability, basic numeracy, data interpretation, and – somewhat more controversially – English language comprehension skills (at Class X level).

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